Now, that Israeli elections are over, it’s time to consider what happened and what the impact of it all will be going forward. Some things will be impacted fairly substantially, others not so much. First, what actually happened?
Let’s compare the 2013 Elections with yesterday’s and look.
In 2013, there was a joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list on the political right that received 31 seats. In this election, the two parties combined received 36 seats.
In 2013, left leaning Labor (15) and center-left Hatnua (6) had 21 seats combined. In this election, running together, they received 24.
Yair Lapid’s center-left Yesh Atid party lost eight seats from 19 to 11, making it the biggest loser in this election.
The political further right also suffered. Jewish Home lost 4 seats from 12 to 8. Shas lost 4 seats from 11 to 7. UTJ lost one.
The Joint Arab List went from a combined 11 seats to a combined 13 seats, taking one from Meretz, the leftist party for which many Arabs have voted in the past. Meretz ended up with 5 seats.
The creation and rise of Kulanu adds an issue no one is addressing yet. Some see Kulanu as simply a centrist party, with Yesh Atid and Hatnua from 2013 being replaced by Yesh Atid and Kulanu in 2015. However, that misses an important point. Kulanu is an offshoot of Likud.
Functionally, 2013’s Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu’s 31 seats actually swelled to 46 in this election if you include Kulanu as being part of that 2013 Likud led group and adding its 10 seats. That is massive growth in two years.
Most of the discussion concerning the Israeli elections in the United States has been about Iran and Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Neither were substantial issues in the election. Why? As Buji Herzog himself said, “There is no daylight between his position and Bibi’s on Iran.” The left and the right are of one mind on Iran. That this position is one in strong opposition to the perceived negotiating position and strategy of the Obama Administration is something that would have created friction between either man as Israeli Prime Minister and the Obama Administration. Herzog would only have begun his term with less animosity. However, Herzog would also have begun his term having been given less trust to stand up to the Obama Administration on that issue.
Netanyahu’s willingness to go to Washington and speak truth to power may have influenced some Israeli voters, even as it upset many American ones. I realize that polls did not strongly show that to be the case, but considering that the polls also completely misread the Israeli election, I wouldn’t put much trust in their having read that particular issue accurately either.
On the peace process, Netanyahu’s is being quoted as if he would actively combat the creation of a Palestinian state of some kind at some point in the future under any circumstances. In an interview with NRG, Netanyahu was asked about the creation of a Palestinian state. His response was:
I think anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state and to evacuate territory is giving radical Islam a staging ground against the State of Israel. This is the reality that has been created here in recent years. Anyone who ignores it has his head in the sand.
When asked to clarify his answer, “If you are a prime minister, there will be no Palestinian state?” Netanyahu’s response was, “Indeed.”
Netanyahu also stated that his party will continue to advocate for a united Jerusalem and that the creation of Har Homa in 1996 was at least partly a way to keep Bethlehem from encroaching upon Jerusalem. That all said, he also said something being completely ignored by those interested in two states, namely that a strong Likud government is necessary to withstand international pressure to divide Jerusalem and return to the 1967 borders. What is being missed?
Netanyahu could have only said that it is necessary to avoid the creation of a Palestinian state. Clearly implied here is a willingness to talk so long as dividing Jerusalem and following the exact 1967 borders are not the end game.
Additionally, Netanyahu has elsewhere argued that Israel must control the Jordanian border for an extended period. Many have said that this means there will be no fully independent Palestinian state without Israeli border control for some time, if ever. However, that doesn’t mean that negotiations for a vastly improved situation in the West Bank are not possible. While this isn’t a perspective in line with the Obama Administration’s or the Palestinian leadership’s, there is no doubt that there is substantial wiggle room here. The door is still open for peace negotiations to which Israel will almost certainly agree, regardless of Netanyahu’s statement to NRG, when proposed by the US following the establishment of a coalition, avoiding the threat of a UN Security Council resolution and the absence of a US veto.
In the meantime, in what appears to have been an attempt to pull votes from the political right in order to strengthen the Likud, Netanyahu has opened himself up, along with the about to be formed Israeli coalition, to be accused of opposing any peace agreement with the Palestinians. In the short term, there is a great deal of concern and criticism.
While it is most likely that the coalition that Netanyahu will lead will be a heavily right-leaning coalition of Likud, Kulanu, Jewish Home and Israel Beiteinu, along with the Hareidim, Shas and UTJ, there is a possible alternative. Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid’s centrist party, might find it beneficial to once again join the coalition. This could keep UTJ and Shas from being a part of the coaltion and from undoing Yesh Atid’s prized legislation, the Draft Law. Otherwise, the Hareidim will no doubt insist upon concessions that will see the agreement unravel and remove penalties for yeshiva students who do not serve.
Is Yesh Atid willing to sit in a Netanyahu led coalition again, something which would make it a center-right coalition and not a right-religious one? Some coalition related compromises will be in the air.
Now, regarding the Arab community: PM Netanyahu made some references to “Arab voters are coming out to vote in droves” which are being taken as overtly racist by many and are certainly problematic. It is reasonable for Netanyahu to apologize and argue that he misspoke, simply meaning that the opposition, including a party whose supporters are Arabs by definition (the Joint Arab List), was getting its voters to the polls and his own voters better get out to vote as well. However, I doubt he will even deign to address the issue and so will continue to be criticized for what American ears generally heard as racist.
The day after, the White House and State Department were offering their concerns about Netanyahu’s statements about both a future Palestinian state and Arab voters. They have an obligation to do so and to seek clarification on both counts. But when the dust settles, the reality is that Benjamin Netanyahu will once again be the democratically elected leader of one of America’s best friends and strongest allies.
Yesterday, Sec. State Kerry already reached out to congratulate PM Netanyahu on his election victory. The President most likely will when a coalition is formed and Netanyahu officially becomes Prime Minister again, though he certainly won’t be enthusiastic about it.
Israel will continue to be seen as the major American ally in the region, the only one with Strategic Partner status, strongly supported by the vast majority of Congress and, grudgingly perhaps so long as Netanyahu is the Prime Minister, by this White House. Iran will continue to be a major threat to Israel’s security and that of its neighbors. Concern about a potential “bad deal” being achieved will strengthen until proven founded or unfounded. Threats from terrorism both from within the Palestinian territories and from beyond Israel’s borders will remain a pressing issue. Israel will continue to strategically partner with Jordan and Egypt. Its tech sector will continue to grow. Its housing crisis will remain problematic. The Europeans and the UN will continue to heap scorn on Israel and the Cubs still will not have won a World Series since 1908.
While there are perhaps some new things going on here and there. For the most part, “Ein chadash tachat hashemesh.” There is nothing truly new under the sun. Benjamin Netanyahu will begin his fourth term as Prime Minister of Israel and the Israeli and American political left are struggling to understand why.